Seeking One Pearl

Do you attend real estate conventions, trade shows or symposiums? Were you one of the 105,263 paid registrants that attended the 2006 International Builders’ Show hosted by the National Association of Home Builders last year in Orlando? Sixteen hundred exhibitors filled 1.5 million sq. ft. of space and hundreds of speakers gave educational seminars over a four-day mega convention. With so much to see, do you have an objective and game plan to maximize the time and energy you will be committing to traveling to this year’s show or to any other seminar or convention?

My first trip to an International Builders’ Show was to Houston in 1985, one year after I joined my dad in the building business. I was overwhelmed by the enormity of the show, from the number of attendees, to the quantity and quality of the exhibitors, and the variety of educational seminars.

In 1986 the real estate market was red hot. I persuaded my dad to more than quadruple the size of his home building company. Before I intervened, he was poised to make a respectable profit on selling 45 approved lots to another builder. Instead he threw out the land sale contract and borrowed millions for road infrastructure and spec homes to jump-start the three subdivisions that comprised the 45 lots. Lucky for both of us, the market stayed strong until 1990, at which time he was ready, willing and able to retire.

As a result of regularly attending the annual builder’s show, my dad and I tapped into excellent resources. This enabled us to successfully manage the rapid growth of the business. We found the right financial software to do our accounting. We met and hired a marketing consultant.

We hired an excellent project manager I met while attending a seminar titled “How to Interview Job Applicants.” After I had stepped to the microphone to ask the speaker a question on where to find trained project managers, a resourceful recent college grad from Michigan, Randy Schmidt, handed me his contact information. He moved to New Jersey and built 15 new homes for us!

Start your preparation for the 2007 show by asking yourself what area of your business needs improvement? Is it sales and marketing, business management and organization, land development, customer service? Choose one area you want to focus on and thoroughly investigate it. Talk to vendors who supply products relevant to the topic you are committed to investigating. Attend seminars that address your chosen topic.

On Friday, Feb. 9, Residential Design & Build’s editor Rob Heselbarth will moderate a debate between myself and Dennis Dixon, a custom builder from Arizona, that will address the universal custom builder conundrum: Cost Plus vs. Fixed Price contracts. Which is simpler? Which generates more profits and is easier to manage? Which is best for your business?

Accordingly, do not attempt to make more than one significant change to the way you run your business when you return from the show. Set only one goal for yourself: Look for just one idea to help run your business more profitably and efficiently. If you do, you will be able to relax and meander through the myriad exhibits. Strike up conversations with the other attendees. One comment from a builder you meet sharing a bus ride to the convention hall may contain the pearl you are seeking!